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4500-Year-Old Harbor, Papyri Found in Egypt
April 21, 2013

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Archaeologists have found remains of a harbor in use in Egypt 4,500 years ago and a fragment of the oldest papryus ever found.

A team of French and Egyptian archaeoligists found the site, in the Wadi al-Jarf area, more than 100 miles south of Suez. In addition to docks, stone anchors, boat fragments, and other signifiers of an ancient harbor, the archaeologists found storage jars, pieces of rope, and 40 fragments of papyrus describing events that took place during the 27th year of the reign of Khufu.

Khufu was a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2589 B.C. to 2666 B.C. He is known throughout history as the pharaoh who commissioned the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The papyri contain references to names of some of the boats moored in the harbor, as well as detailed descriptions of food shipments. One set of papyrus fragments is part of the diary of Merrer, a high-ranking official who was involved in the building of the Great Pyramid.

The site was explored originally by British explorer John Wilkinson, in 1823, and then again by a French team in the 1950s. Neither expedition turned up evidence of a harbor, which the current team says is older by 1,000 years than any known port structure.

The expanded excavation revealed 30 galleries, resembling underground passages or areas. (The British expedition thought them catacombs.) In all, the current team found 30 galleries, with an average size of 7 feet in height, 10 feet in width, and 65 feet in length. The ancient Egyptians used the galleries to store boats dismantled after trade expeditions, sending copper and stones to the Nile Valley or elsewhere.

 

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